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The Bathhouse by Lavro

The Bathhouse

He was a young man with a passport full of stamps, enjoying all of the luxury that a patched backpack with a broken zipper could hold. Cameron, the vagabond, was not the product of the wealth of his homeland in North America, but rather a wandering soul with empty pockets, the skills to earn a meal, and no desire to return home. He lost count of the months since his departure, finding comfort in the beds of the fair skinned men of the Netherlands, sharing a hostel bunk in Slovenia, or as the temporary live-in housekeeper of an unnamed millionaire in Amalfi.

Although Cameron was ‘vanilla’ by the standards of his Master in Amalfi who had a tendency for leather and metal, he did rather enjoy vanilla a lot, engaging it often and with fervor. Yet, the feet of the vagabond are not bound to one place, always on the move, always seeking new places to plant temporary roots. His wanderlust eventually brought him to the lands of Arabia, where Cameron’s tastes could not be satisfied without great risk. That did not mean that he did not enjoy Arabian men as a voyeur, but rather that he kept his hands and ambitions to himself.

Not that he didn’t feel eyes on him, a stranger in this land. His hair most of all grabbed glances. He had not cut it since before his departure, and now his loose curls covered his ears, framed his face, and fell down his neck. He was used to keeping it long. In college, from which he was on an undetermined break, his art professor jokingly referred to him at a Botticelli boy, thinking of the painters’ depictions of Mercury and Mars, with long chestnut-colored curls, pale skin, and slender musculature. He did look like that, he knew, but bore no attachment to his look other than keeping his face and chest shaved smooth whenever he could.

Since his arrival here though, it wasn’t necessary to shave his body, nor did all of the places he stayed in offer the privacy to do so, be it in shared bathrooms or otherwise. It was hot and dry too. But Cameron found that his hair shielded his neck and face from the sun. It did not stop him from perspiration, which the public bathhouses or hammam offered ample opportunity for a very thorough cleansing, which he took advantage of as often as possible.

By the time he found himself halfway to Persia, Cameron had visited a dozen of these hammams, deeply enjoying the ritual of deep scrubbing, steam treatments, and even the occasional massages from strong handed Arab men. When at last he found himself in a town he had never heard of with a name he could not pronounce, it had been well over a month since his last cleaning in a hammam. His small auberge was in the middle of the historical, religious part of town, where he knew a proper bathhouse could be found to fit his needs.

When he came to it, it was business as usual. A lot of awkward staring. Stripping down to his towel and tight boxer briefs and heading into the steam room to open his pores before the scrubbing. His money went far in this place, and he decided to splurge his earnings from the nearby fig plantation to get the full treatment. Cameron was usually in awe of the unanswered homoerotic potential of these spaces, cruelly depriving the flesh of a more sensual touch, a place both comforting and wicked in what it provides and prohibits.

He was lucky that his long, wet hair was thick, hanging heavy over the sides of his face, obscuring his eyes so those handsome, slender Arab men did not see his enticed glance. Once properly steamed, he entered the next room where he was pointed to a comfortable bench for his scrubbing. Handing the man his scrub pad glove, laying fist on his stomach, his whole body was roughly scrubbed and rid of build-up. He was flipped to his back and the process is repeated, even on the handsome cheeks of his youthful face, until all of his skin feels smooth.

His blood was pumping, circulating rhythmically under his exfoliated skin, tingling. Laying where he was, the same man used those strong hands, massaging Cameron’s body. They spoke no words to each other, nor would they have understood verbal communication. Yet, the man found and soothed each ache and pain, from the neck to the hip, and into the calf and foot. Cameron rose feeling rejuvenated, his sight temporarily lost to the intensity of pleasure he felt. All he could do was share a smile with the man before running both of his hands through his hair and making for the next room.

Each hammam he had visited was each equipped with slight variations from one another, but often were composed of the same elements. That is why Cameron was surprised that he did not enter the shower room where he would wash his body again and shampoo his hair. Instead, he found himself in a smaller room with basins of steaming water, and two young men standing at the basins with small stools in front of them, close to the ground. While one rinsed his hands, the other was splashing the floor with sudsy water and running it into a drain. As Cameron walked in, only one other person was exiting the room and going onto the next, the door closing quickly behind him. He was clueless as to the function of the room and did not know how to ask.

He looked between the two men and the door to the next room, trying to decipher what to do next. He had paid in advanced for everything the hammam had to offer. One of the men locked eyes with him, giving a curios glance and saying something in Arabic. Cameron shrugged, smiling shyly, a clear gesture that he didn’t understand. The man, with his sharp handsome features, and dark thick hair, smiled back patting the seat of the small stool. Unable to decline whatever was being offered, Cameron took off his towel and sat in his underwear. He was very low to the ground, his feet flat on the tile, his knees bent high.

The man began using his fingertips to expertly massage Cameron’s head, rubbing his temples, thick long curls between his fingers. His hands ran all over his head and neck, his forehead and around his ears. The man positioned his head forward with some force, placing them somewhat level with his knees. He then delicately poured refreshing warm water over his head. Cameron stayed put, watching the water drip past his face, listening as the man picked something else up. A tool of some sort.

With his head facing forward, right at the top where his hair naturally parted and met the crown of his head at the back, he felt the tingly pressure of a thin metal tool. Part of the massage he thought as the man lightly pushed it towards the ground, picking it up and repeating the motion. It felt very good, making an odd scraping sound. That moment of delight was only temporary. A second later, on the tile floor in front of him, large strands of chestnut colored hair hit the tile floor. What the f*#k? But the shock had not run its course, and the man moved his tool over to a new spot, lightly and sternly pushing it forward, more hair falling off of his head, landing on the floor.

Cameron sprung up in surprise, panic seizing him. His hand went to the top of his head where the tool was, rubbing the spot. No… It was completely smooth. The man looked at him in surprise. He was holding a straight razor and pointing back to the stool. The other man in the room started to laugh. Cameron grabbed the sides of his long hair and made a frantic gesture telling the man ‘no.’ The man spread his arms as if to say ‘sorry, too late.’ He reached for a small mirror, handing it to Camron. He took it frantically and looked at himself. Two near-perfect rectangular strips were shaved smooth from the top of his head.

"Oh no," he said loudly, his eyes going wide.

The man, with insincere apology in his eyes, retrieved the mirror, and took Cameron’s hand. He sat him back down. They both knew it was too late. The scraping sound immediately continued, and Cameron watched more of his hair get severed from his head and fall to a pile on the tile in front of him. Even as his long fringe hung in his face, the razor came to one side, passing from his temple through his sideburn, revealing pale white skin. The ruthless shaver bent his ear forward taking those curls off too, then evenly went around the back, clearing the tresses from his neck for the first time in his entire life.

Now the wet shaved hair piled all over his back and shoulders, fell over his knees, and filled the floor around them. Angry, his hand aggressively swiped the hair form his shoulder. His hair. HIS hair was being shaved! He felt so stupid for getting himself in this situation. The razor came next around the other ear, again over the other temple, and at last shaving the other side completely smooth.

The razor again was placed on top. Cameron winced as the feeling of it scraped over his head. The razor worked its way forward, finally reaching his fringe, daring to destroy it. Everything else was gone, and there was no hesitation in finishing the job. Cameron saw as the long hair dangling over his right eye, as it always had been, fell from his face. Another pass took it off his forehead, revealing the redness in his eyes and the tears of frustration on his cheek. The man did not notice, or care, focusing on Cameron’s hairline, and making it vanish with his razor, a magician with his wand, until it was erased completely.

These procedures only took a few minutes. Cameron’s hair needed more time than usual being so long, so thick, and so healthy. He felt the last rinse of cool water wash the loose hairs from his head, shoulders, and body. It was all there, on the floor, cut off in just a matter of minutes, against his wishes, accidentally asked for. There was nothing Cameron could do but hold back his surging emotions and say shukran. Thank you.

The man gave him a nod of approval as he handed him the small mirror again. Cameron looked at himself as he did moments before, but this time he was bald. Completely. He was no longer a Botticelli boy. He could feel the air on his head, a unique and alarming feeling. He felt plain, not recognizing himself. He brought his hand to his head. Skin. And nothing else. It felt terrible. The other man came along with a bucket of water, rinsing away his shorn locks as fast as the razor took them off of his head. It would take years to get that style back, he knew.

It must be a custom, because he noticed as he entered the next room, the room he expected with the showers, most of the men had smooth heads. Some it would seem, elected not to shave theirs, and passed through the small room without it, as he could have done had he known better. Everyone looked at him as he entered the room. He never felt so exposed, so open, even as his glance looked back at one of the handsome Arab boys, and his hair could not conceal his gaze.

He looked away in embarrassment and stepped up to the shower. He remembered how excited he was to shampoo his hair. He wouldn’t need shampoo for some time. Cameron was bald now. Cameron didn’t want to be bald, but there was nothing he could do. Yet, he couldn’t stop rubbing his smooth shaved head, even as he left the bathhouse, clean.

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